'Man Up' on Racism

January 03, 2016

Black students at the University of Missouri at Columbia talk about how they experience racism on a campus where only 7 percent of students and 3 percent of faculty members look like them. And the students lay out what their peers and professors need to do to bridge divides: Examine yourself, they say. Acknowledge prejudice. Empathize. Fight the status quo. Be a part of change.


CORIE WILKINS: I’ve heard every excuse from white people as to why racism isn’t an issue here and for every excuse I’ve heard a story or experience, you know a lived event, that directly contradicts the sentiment that we are making this up.

ANDREA JACKSON: I don’t think that I have ever lived in a place where it was so heavy on one side demographically as far as race was concerned. When I came here it was a culture shock to say the least. To be frank it was a very white city with a very white campus that functioned through white culture.

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CORIE WILKINS: You know I came here and I found out that there are real people that have never seen a black person in their life. That happens in the United States of America. It is a real thing.

ANDREA JACKSON: I’ve never personally experienced overt racism here, but I did notice a separation of races on campus. If I go to a function that is sponsored by the black students on campus — the black organizations — it’s black people there. If I go to a function that, or when I went, rather, to the function that was sponsored by the Multicultural Center for a Latino/Latina mixer, it was all Latin-Americans there. When I went to the Homecoming Talent Show — Homecoming Talent Show, which is supposed to be a school-wide event, but it was all white people there. So wherever I went, the organizations were very separated and there didn’t seem to be any type of intermingling of the races at all.

TIANA GLASS: Living like this is not easy and is really not fun.

MARQUISE GRIFFIN: Something that really affects the culture here and that really affects people is willingness to learn about what is white privilege, what is institutionalized racism, what is systemic oppression, and actually understand that these things are real.

DANIELLE WALKER: We have a problem in regards to race relations and I am seeking and employing our administration to really create policy that really promotes having a more safe and inclusive environment.

CORIE WILKINS: My second day on campus, second day here my freshman year, I got called a nigger. A group of guys who were driving past in a car, right through the middle of campus. I was so shocked I honestly couldn’t even get mad that time, simply because that was so foreign to me. I knew people got called niggers, I knew it happened, but ultimately it was nothing I ever dealt with in Chicago, not from a white person.

Turmoil at Mizzou

Last fall student protests over race relations rocked the University of Missouri's flagship campus, in Columbia, and spawned a wave of similar unrest at colleges across the country. Read more Chronicle coverage of the turmoil in Missouri and its aftermath.

DANIELLE WALKER: When we’re talking about racism, it’s not that someone is calling me the n-word when I am walking down the street or being pulled over by police, even though those are very salient examples of racism. I’m talking about the aspect of when I give a presentation and people saying, “Well you’re very articulate.”

REUBEN FALOUGHI: You know Ferguson happened here and these ongoing police shootings, when it comes to class are we able to have those conversations in a safe space where I can say what I want to say but then also the teacher can facilitate the conversations? Because a lot of times you know students get bullied — sometimes by the faculty members, sometimes by students.

DANIELLE WALKER: I didn’t really encounter like a very crystalized racial experience until 2010 when the cotton-ball incident occurred, where a group of white students decided to put cotton balls all on the lawn of the black culture center. The overall crime that the students were convicted of was littering.

CORIE WILKINS: I’ve dealt with things like being stopped coming out the Mizzou store in the student center because the alarm went off as I was leaving the store. Everybody looks at me, and it’s like, You have to come here and, you know, we have to search your bag. Meanwhile white students are walking past and the detector is going off after each one, and I watched all of them get told, “Oh you’re fine, keep going.”

REUBEN FALOUGHI: Just yesterday, a professor asked me again to play rap music, you know — one, as if I can’t listen to other types of music, and two, as if I’m a rapper.

REUBEN FALOUGHI: The question that I have been getting, especially as an original member of the Concerned Student 1950 group is, “What next? What do we do next? We want to help. We’re ready.” That question lets me know – to some degree, to some degree — that there’s still some internal work to do. So I think what everybody can do is build their consciousness. So when I talk about consciousness that’s that internal knowledge of self.

TIANA GLASS: What I would want to see is accountability.

ANDREA JACKSON: Both faculty and students at this university, they see the separation, and they might view it as being OK.

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DANIELLE WALKER: People will say, “Oh I don’t have a prejudice bone in my body,” and I would always lightheartedly, you know, challenge that.

CORIE WILKINS: Do your best to empathize and work with black people.

DANIELLE WALKER: Having a bias, recognizing that, doesn’t make you a bad person, and so it’s really important, after acknowledging that we have a problem, for people to figure out ways that they may continue to contribute to or perpetuate the problem.

MARQUISE GRIFFIN: We don’t want people who are trying to uphold the status quo. We want to bring in students and faculty and administrators who want to move Mizzou forward and make it more inclusive.

ANDREA JACKSON: If everyone mans up in sort of a way, to step up to the plate, to do their part to say that this has to change and so we’re going to take the initiative to be a part of that change — then I think it could.